They tried to stay out of the conflict. They moved to a remote house in the mountains miles away from the city below where the water wars raged out of control. He dug a well under the porch of their house in order to keep it hidden from thieves. It just barely reached far enough down to reach any water. The lake was nearly dry, and all the reservoirs were empty. Most people had already left the area, but then Canada refused to take any more climate refugees, and the remaining people were trapped to fight for each drop. The people in the camps along the border hoping to be let in were even more desperate than those they had left in the city.
Occasionally they would see clouds on the horizon and become hopeful. But the clouds either passed right by or rained just enough to grow the cheatgrass that would dry out and likely catch fire at some point ending things for them once and for all. It had been months since they had any measurable precipitation, and years since they had any snow.
It was a hard life, but they did the best they could. Working the land and gathering and growing whatever food they could manage in secret created a bond between them. She was a great gardener, and the garden she grew up on the high plateau was enough to provide as long as the well held out. He would carve things out of wood. She would make paints from the things found in the forest and create beautiful works of art. Despite the struggle, they adjusted to their life rather well and made the best of it.
They would often wonder about the fate of the people in the city. He was concerned for months that someone would come up, find his well, find her garden, and try to take them by force. He was surprised when he realized it had been months and nobody ever came. He wondered if things got much better in the city, or much, much worse. He wasn’t about to risk everything to find out. He was starting to fall for her, his fellow survivor, and would not put her into danger in order to satisfy his curiosity about the fate of his former city.
Then he went to grab some water from the well. It was dry. He lifted his equipment out and tried to dig further, but he was hitting rock. He tried to sink another well, but reached only rock. They were out of water except for the reserves they already bottled. It would not last more than a couple of days. He scaled the cliff face to find her in the garden and told her.
“I knew this coming. It’s okay,” she smiled.
She then told him that they would take the water they had, some weapons to protect them from thieves, and the wood carvings he did and paintings she made. Her idea was that if things had gotten better in the city, perhaps they could barter them for water. Maybe they could even stay there if they were rescued.
“What if there was no rescue?” he asked her.
“We die there instead of here,” she answered.
They packed all they could on their backs and set off for the city. They did their best to conserve water, but the hike down the mountain required them to drink more than they were hoping. As they reached the outskirts of the city, he knew they would have to find water soon.
She remarked about how they had not encountered any trouble as they walked into the deserted suburbs. It was an ominous sign. She knew that they should have encountered someone willing to kill them for what little water they carried. The fact that they saw nobody let her know her plan had failed.
They walked through blocks and blocks of empty streets toward the downtown core. They hoped that any survivors would be there among the resources of the commercial center. And then they started seeing the bodies. Bodies just decomposing in the street. They passed the bombed out ruins created from the water wars. They saw the graffiti asking for help from the government. They saw an entire city left to terminally dehydrate. And then they saw something more sinister. They saw the chemical weapons canisters. They saw the police barricades. They saw the remains of people who were exterminated instead of saved.
She broke into tears. He looked for any source of water he could find, but knew it had all been consumed. He tried to comfort her. There was nothing he could say to her that would give her hope, as he had none himself. After holding her in his arms and letting what little moisture she had left in her seep out of her eyes and onto his shoulder, he pulled out the last canteen of water, and gave her the final sip.
“Not here. Not like this. Let’s go home,” he told her.
They walked hand in hand back out of the city. The sky was clear and night began to fall. The dehydration was already setting in, and her muscles began cramping up. They stopped at a deserted suburban park. They sat on the ground, and would have cried, had they been able to. She was getting weak. He had her lie down with her head in his lap. He stroked her cheek with his thumb and looked into her eyes.
“Well, at least I felt real love in this life,” he told her.
“What?” she asked with a light in her eyes he had not seen.
“I swear by every star in this night sky that I will love you forever,” he admitted to her.
Her eyes widened and she perked up. “Wait,” she began, “Where are the stars? There are no stars!” she exclaimed.
He looked up to see what she was talking about when the snow began to fall. Hard. It began piling up on the ground and around them. They were cold. They were exhausted. They were still scared. But they were saved. As soon as there was enough snow, he scooped some up in the canteen, used his lighter to melt it, and give her the fresh, clear water.
He stood up, and reached for her hand. “Come on, we should find shelter,” he told her.
“Wait,” she said, standing up and smiling, “I need to tell you something.”
She grabbed his hands and pulled him toward her. She leaned in and kissed him deeply. She pulled away and as he was still grinning said, “I swear by every snow flake on the ground and in the sky that I love you.”
They stood together in the snow, kissing and smiling as long as they could in the cold, before they left to find shelter and start the rest of their happy lives together.